The Mad Stitcher Blog
or Adventures in Restoring Vintage Clothing
|We will not repeat basic sewing instructions here in this blog. We recommend that you acquire a library of sewing and tailoring instruction books from the decades in your collection or the periods in which you specialize. Sewing books and magazines can be found in thrift stores, library fund-raising sales, yard and tag sales, auctions, antique shows, used book stores and at your library. Check out collections of pamphlets and flyers, too. Ask older members of your family or community who learned to sew if they still have their books.
More on Improving the Smell Test
Vickie wrote: "I have used good old-fashioned borax on several old items that belonged to my grandmother. These items, mostly bed linens (a chenille bedspread and eyelet-trimmed pillowcases to name a few) were in a dark closet for many years. A tornado uprooted a tree which fell on the house and the room with the linens got soaked. This room and roof were repaired but never properly cleaned up. About 16 years later, there is still a horrible musty odor in that room. (I keep the door shut!) There was no way I was going to part with that beautiful old chenille spread so (holding my breath) I took it outside to shake out some dust and dead bugs then soaked it in the washing machine with about a cup of borax for about 2 hours. I probably could have soaked it for less time, but I was on overkill. I HATE that odor! The bedspread and other linens are white, so I did not have to worry about any color fading. They are now a very bright white and look and smell great! Absolutely no odor at all.
I have soaked other things in borax and water, but nothing else as old or precious as the bed linens. I soaked some clothes I wore in the 70's in the borax, and not only did the colors not fade or bleed, but they are brighter and look new. I would definitely test a few spots on older clothing or delicate fabrics before plunging them into the water and borax. Borax is great for many things! The borax box will give you suggestions for other uses."
Vickie has used this method successfully on vintage aprons. http://www.squidoo.com/vintageaprons
Tell us what you think?
Getting Rid of that Old Vintage Smell
We have been asked how do you get rid of the old clothes smell. Actually, we have to admit when we are at an estate sale and get a whiff of that vintage smell, we think we may find treasures. But we don't want to live with them for long, or pass them on to others.
We don't know of any definitive answers for getting rid of vintage smells in clothing and textiles. We find that some of the older rayons have a distinctive smell as do some of the woolens. Both of those fabrics have smells of their own when they are wet. We have wondered if the older dyes smell differently to us.
These are some of the things that we have tried with varying degrees of success:
1. Some of the smell may be accumulated dust, so vacuum cleaning the surface is a good beginning step. Use a soft brush or cover the vacuum cleaning nozzle with net.
2. We end up washing a lot of things even when it is recommended not to. If it stinks and has terrible stains that dry cleaning won't take out it is not wearable or saleable anyway. We have about a 50% success rate.
3. If it looks clean and smells reasonably clean we have some success using Dry Cleaner's Secret (similar to Dryel but better according to Consumer's Reports). It seems to take out odors, but it is not particularly good for really stained or very dirty items.
We also try the following:
4. Try putting the item in a dryer with two very damp towels. Check often, it probably shouldn't be left more than about 15 minutes, maybe less.
5. Send it back to the dry cleaner's. We are lucky to get a bulk dry cleaning rate from a small cleaner in a nearby town. Pressing is not included, but many things, especially woolens, often do not need to be pressed and we have our own steamer.
6. If it is white, hang it on a clothesline for a time. If it is dark colored and you don't want any sun bleaching, hang it in a covered area with good air circulation for a long, long time. This works well for lingering moth ball smells. We have left things as long as two weeks on our covered porch and the smell eventually goes.
Marian once bought a lambskin steering wheel cover that smelled terribly of mildew. She put it in the center of the clothesline and forgot about it. About 6 weeks later, she rescued it and used it odor free until it wore out. This works for things that come back from the dry cleaners with cigarette smoke smell too. Arrgh!
7. We have a highly rated portable air cleaner in the clothing building, which we think helps to reduce that old vintage smell. Check Consumer Reports for recommended brands.
We do not use scented candles, sachets, talcum powder, or cotton balls with cologne or perfume on them or other artificial smells as a cover up. Some people are sensitive to perfumes, and personally, we find the combination of that old vintage smell and these artificial aromas particularly repulsive.
Maybe having things smell a little differently from some of the modern clothing is not a bad thing, but just one of the things we vintage lovers accept along with the lovely old fabrics, workmanship and styles.
Shoulder Pad Mysteries
Anyone who deals with vintage clothing also has to cope with shoulder pads. They are essential for some styles in some decades. So where did they all go? We have wondered if they are similar to Erma Bombeck's missing socks and have made their way to your sewing room. Perhaps the previous owners of vintage clothing all had high broad shoulders but we don't think so. Maybe one fell out. We find a lot of single shoulder pads in garments so the other one may also have been taken out. But more likely they were removed to make, hopefully, the garment look more up-to-date. For example, the rounder more fitted shoulders of the 1950's, saw many people taking shoulder pads out of their well padded 40's clothing.
Some of them did not disappear, but hid in the garment itself. We have found shoulder pads in jacket sleeves, in the back of lined coats, under the arm, and dangling down the bosom. The disappearance must have confounded the owner, because in more than one case, a replacement pad was sewed in leaving the lost one hidden. We have found lining shoulders of jackets mutilated in order to get offending shoulder pads out.
Shoulder pads covered by linings in coats and jackets, seem to be stitched together sturdily and only need to reattached if they are loose. But some are huge in comparison to the style of the garment. Sometimes some of the layers of padding can be removed to thin them a bit.
The materials from which shoulder pads were made is a continuing source of wonder. The better made ones in dresses are covered with the same fabric of the garment. But many were made from very flimsy taffeta type rayon material which deteriorates through wearing, laundering and dry cleaning, leaking cotton wadding all the way. In all too many cases, the cotton batting filling has balled up and is hard and unyielding. Some pads are filled with mystery material related to sawdust and cement. We also can't figure out the purpose of empty shoulder pads, which appear never to have had any filling. The color of some shoulder pads must have been matched to the garment by a color blind person. And shoulder pads are often way out of proportion to the garment, both too small and too large. One size does not fit all.
So what to do? Check to see if the garment ever had shoulder pads. You can usually find snipped thread tacks where they were taken out. The depth of the shoulder and arms eye are another clue. Put the garment on a dress form, or try it on to see how the fit looks with or without pads. If you decide it must have shoulder pads, look through your stash of shoulder pads, you do save all that stuff don't you? Periodically check thrift stores. Once in a while, a whole bag of them will be there. Sometimes they show up with sewing supplies at auctions or in rummage, tag sales or yard sales. If you are lucky, you will find a pair of the right size and color. But more often you will need to cover a pair of the old pads you have on hand that are not covered with the right fabric. We find coat or jacket lining material that is in our stashed might-need-it-someday fabrics works well. Check placement on a dress form or by trying the garment on. Sew the pads on inside the seam allowance with the appropriate weight of thread, not carpet thread or fishing line as we have found used. And do not let the stitches show on the outside of the garment.
If nothing else works, and the garment has to have shoulder pads to retain its style and lines, make shoulder pads from new materials to be found at sewing and fabric stores. To tell the truth, the new polyester padding material is superior to the vintage kind. Most sewing instruction books from the decade in which you are working have good easy to understand information on making, shaping, fitting and attaching shoulder pads. Happily pad along.
Guide to Hems
We have found hems pinned with safety and straight pins, stapled and glued with silicone (not fabric) glue. Hems have been sewed or machine sewed with as many as four colors of thread, with carpet thread, buttonhole thread and with fishing line. The record of hems having been turned up from the original is four times. The record width of a turned up hem is eight inches. Sometimes people have turned up hems because they are short in height, but we suspect that many garments were shortened in an attempt to make them appear more current. The lengths of skirts and of coats and jackets is an integral part of the silhouette from a time period. Tampering drastically with hem lengths destroys the original proportions.
Our goal, and perhaps yours, is to restore hems as close as possible to the original. Perhaps some of these ideas will be of use when you acquire as-is pieces. A lot of vintage clothing is as-you-find it, just waiting for a caring owner.
Leave the hem alone, even if it is not the original hem, if:
•The hem is well done with appropriate weight and color of thread,
the proportions of the garment are okay.
•If the bottom edge of the hem is discolored or faded and will show a lot if let down.
•In your view the garment is not worth the investment in time and materials.
If you decide you must work on a hem, the first task is to take out the old hem "carefully" in good light. A sharp corsage pin works well. Curved needle nosed pliers or a surgical clamp can be useful when removing tiny machine stitches. Use a small brush to clean out the amazing amount of lint and debris you may uncover. Do this before you dry clean or launder the garment.
A good steamer or steam iron can often take out the mark of the turned up hem. Or you can try a steam sandwich. Put a strip of wet cloth on each side of the hem backed up on both sides with a strip of aluminum foil with shiny side next to the wet cloth. Cover with an ironing cloth or clean plain dish towel and iron away. Magic or not. Some people have success spraying on plain vinegar before steaming. Allow to dry. If there is still a faint line often the new hem can be turned up just to that line. By using matching or slightly darker thread, new hand stitches mask the previous hemline mark. If you cannot find matching thread check out embroidery thread which comes in many colors.
If the bottom of the garment has been cut off so that there is very little material with which to make a hem, you will need to face it. Haunt some of the sources above for cotton and rayon hem facing materials. We do not like to use polyester binding or lace on older pieces. If you have to, cut your own bias facing of an appropriate width from fabric that matches as closely as possible. You do save all that stuff don't you?
There are no magic answers. Sometimes nothing works well. But we keep trying. Hem a garment, so that the future owner cannot say, "The mad stitcher struck again."